Monday, October 29, 2012

Growing up minus the childhood (Books - Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos)

Tochtli is a precocious seven-year-old, although he protests otherwise, who lives in a palace with its own zoo and is obsessed with hats, difficult words, and Liberian pygmy hippopotami.
Some people say I'm precocious.  They say it mainly because they think I know difficult words for a little boy.  Some of the difficult words I know are: sordid, disastrous, immaculate, pathetic, and devastating.  There aren't really that many people who say I'm precocious.  The problem is I don't know that many people.  I know maybe thirteen or fourteen people, and four of them say I'm precocious.  They say I look older.  Or the other way around: that I'm too little to know words like that.  Or back-to-front and the other way around, sometimes people think I'm a dwarf.  But I don't think I'm precocious.  What happens is I have a trick, like magicians who pull rabbits out of hats, except I pull words out of the dictionary.  Every night before I go to sleep I read the dictionary.  My memory, which is really good, practically devastating, does the rest...


Anyway, more people say I'm odd: seven.  And just because I really like hats and always wear one.  Wearing a hat is a good habit immaculate people have...
Tochtli, unlike most seven-year-olds, is friends with bodyguards, hookers, and drug dealers.  He has a working knowledge of how many bullets it takes to kill someone when they are shot in the head, heart, or elsewhere on the torso, and how to dispose of the body.  That is because (SPOILER ALERT) Tochtli's father is a drug lord.
They definitely killed him, because later I saw Itzpapalotl go past with her mop and bucket. I don't know how many bullets they put in hi though.  I'd say at least four in the heart.  If I counted dead people I'd know more than thirteen or fourteen people  Seventeen or more.  Twenty, easily.  But dead people don't count, because the dead aren't people, they're corpses.
Down the Rabbit Hole (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) by Juan Pablo Villalobos, a Mexican-born writer living in Spain, and translated by Rosalind Harvey, is an unsettling novella.  Tochtli, despite his bizarre associates and his distinctly child-unfriendly environment has a father who loves him deeply and who goes out of his way to give him anything his heart desires, and he is as innocent as most seven-year-olds.  What surrounds him is guns, macho men, and cocaine and so Tochtli understands as much as his seven-year-old brain can, making sense of the rest with his imagination, which is fueled by games, reading, and television, as is true of any other little boy, giving this narrative its moments of comedy. The tragedy here is that Tochtli is possessed of a strong mind and a prodigious imagination that is fed a steady diet of violence and is almost completely insulated from what we think of as reality.  He will never interact with his peers and never be formally educated.  The story is, on the one hand, set in an ugly and violent world.  Yet it is written in the innocent, enthusiastic voice of a little boy who has a hunger to know the world and to grow up and be the master of his choices. It is likely he never will.  On the other hand, for all the cleverness of this thought experiment in what kind of child such a formative environment might produce, I found Down the Rabbit Hole a one-trick pony.  Even at just 75 pages, I found Tochtli's narrative voice monotonous and, although the setting changed significantly, the people never developed which is what makes this novella a tragedy.

1 comment:

C.B. James said...

Awww, phooey. It was sounding like something I would enjoy, right up until the end. That said, should I see this book on a remainder table somewhere, I will probably buy it.